One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet
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*20 seconds of Courage*
It was a pleasant evening. The sun was setting over the horizon. The sky had a tinge of grey and orange in it. It was an evening that would have brought a smile on most faces – but not for Samir. He had an expressionless look on his face; it looked like he was lost… completely lost. As if someone dear to him had left him.
Thoughts of Riya came back rushing to him and for the umpteenth time now since the afternoon he wondered what would have happened if he had the courage to speak his heart out.
Samir had known Riya for three months now. They worked together in an MNC and over the last few weeks, he realized that he had fallen for her. The need to be around her all the time made Samir make friends with Riya’s group. He spent so much time making plans with his “new” friends that he started missing out on all the fun that his boy gang was up to.
Sitting by the balcony of his high-rise apartment, Samir tried to replay the events of the afternoon.
After roaming around Colaba causeway for the better part of the morning, he along with Riya and her friends decided to satisfy their hunger pangs at McDonalds opposite CST station. Samir had been stealing glances at Riya the entire day; and he was not sure whether she had noticed it but she was also playing along with him. Riya had laughed at his jokes as if he was the funniest man alive on this earth and when they had taken photographs as a couple, she had been pretty cool about the same.
They were waiting for their order when Riya tapped Samir on his hand. “Can we go out for a moment? I want to tell you something.” Samir’s heart started racing. Did she notice him looking at her all day? Was she going to tell him off for that? Or maybe she realized why he has started hanging around with them. His mind started throwing up numerous questions. What is it that she wanted to tell him? why only him and not everyone else? With his mind clouded with all these things, he followed Riya out of McDonalds.
Though it was just January, the afternoon sun made one wonder whether winter has already said its goodbye to Mumbai. Riya and Samir stood face to face in the scorching heat outside McDonalds. Riya’s big brown eyes were saying something, but Samir wasn’t sure what they were trying to communicate. He waited patiently for Riya to speak.
“I haven’t told anyone this yet because I wanted you to know it first.”, Riya started making Samir wonder what she was talking about.
“My marriage has been fixed.” Riya stated hesitantly.
Those words hit him like an arrow. He did not know what to say. He could see all his dreams shattering before his eyes. Here he was waiting for the right opportunity to tell Riya that he loved her and now it was over even before it started. Drowning in his pain, Samir suddenly realized that Riya wasn’t exactly beaming like a happy bride-to-be. Her eyes were pleading him to say something and without speaking, they were telling Samir that she loved him.
It was this one moment, this one most important response that Samir knew he would regret for the rest of his life for all he could manage was, “Well, that is indeed a surprise. Congratulations. Your guy is a lucky chap”.
Riya smiled, but her face looked like it would crumble down any moment. Samir didn’t say anything further. They went back into McDonalds and joined the others. Samir couldn’t wait for the afternoon to get over and if he had any inkling of Riya’s anguish, he would know that he wasn’t the only one hurting. As the day ended and everyone said goodbye; Samir and Riya knew that things would never be the same again, but they will continue with the charade of friendship.
As Samir headed back home in the local train, he remembered a quote he had read somewhere “sometimes, all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery and you will see something great come out of it”
Samir could not help but wonder what would have happened if he had taken up on his 20 seconds of courage, his 20 seconds of bravery. Maybe he too would have a great love story to tell?!
For Samir, this Monday was something he wasn’t sure he was looking forward to. He never had the Monday blues like most other people, but today was different. After Saturday afternoon’s talk with Riya at McDonald’s, he just couldn’t imagine facing her now.
He kept himself engrossed in his work that day. Riya did ask him for coffee break, but he quickly dismissed her saying he had something urgent on his plate. He could make out that that she stood at his desk for a minute or so expecting him to say something else, but he didn’t. It pained him to see her going away disappointed, but he didn’t have much choice.
During lunchtime, Riya again came to his desk, but Samir excused himself, saying he had a meeting to attend. He however noticed that even she didn’t go for lunch that day. He kept himself locked in the meeting room with his team for the next couple of hours. Later, feeling hungry, he went to the cafeteria to have a snack. Lost in thoughts, Samir didn’t realize that Riya was standing in front of him. He knew Riya was upset and she wouldn’t let things be until speaking to him.
“Hi Riya”, Samir said. There wasn’t any response from her.
“It’s been a crazy day today, how’s it going for you?” Samir asked, hoping he could leave the cafeteria without getting into any further talks.
“I want to speak to you Samir” Riya said which made Samir stop in his tracks.
Avoiding her eyes, Samir came up with yet another excuse because he very well knew where this conversation was going.
“Actually Riya I have another meeting lined up. Can we talk later?” Samir said.
Tears swelled up in Riya’s eyes, but she didn’t say a word. Samir couldn’t take it anymore and left the cafeteria, leaving Riya to take care of herself.
He kept avoiding Riya for the rest of the evening, but just before the day was about to end Samir received a text from Riya asking him to meet her after office in the nearby mall. He was about to reply saying “No”, but then decided against it. The past 2 days were difficult for him and he wanted to end it and move on with his life. Samir therefore decided to meet Riya and, if needed, tell her why he was acting strangely – after all there wasn’t anything to lose now isn’t it?!
It was nearly lunchtime on a Sunday afternoon. Samir was out playing cricket with his friends. Riya was in the kitchen making paranthas. Samir loved paranthas and she knew he would be home any moment now expecting piping hot paranthas waiting for him. She had prepared enough paranthas for them when the doorbell rang.
As soon as she opened the door, Samir made a dash towards the kitchen and picked up a parantha. Riya was upset with him for not washing his hands before pouncing on the food, but before she could say anything, Rohan called out for Samir.
“Samir beta, how many times mummy have told you to wash your hands before eating meals? Come on now, keep that parantha back and go wash your hands”. Samir looked at his dad once, and then at his mom. When he realized he didn’t have much choice he gave up and left to wash his hands. Both Rohan and Riya knew that their son was upset and so they started pampering him while feeding him his favorite meal.
By the time Riya could think of taking a nap it was 3.30 in the afternoon. As she lay on the bed, a smile reached her face at the sight of Samir and Rohan sleeping in the exact posture. Suddenly, out of nowhere, her thoughts raced back to that eventful evening which changed her life completely.
After the office ended, Riya and Samir met up at the mall nearby. The first few minutes were very quiet as none of them spoke a word. Both realized that there is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question. After what felt like eternity, Samir finally spoke up.
“Would you like to eat anything Riya”? Riya just shook her head to say No. Samir asked, “Riya, why did you want to meet me?”
“Why have you been ignoring me Samir?”Riya asked. Samir wanted to sidestep the question, but he realized he can’t run away forever. It was best to confront it.
“Riya, I don’t know what your reaction will be and I don’t know whether we will continue to be friends after today, but I can’t lie to you anymore.”
Riya could not understand what Samir was trying to tell, but she still nodded her head indicating Samir to continue.
“Riya, I like you a lot. That is the reason why I started hanging around with you over the last couple of weekends. But I guess I am late. And I don’t want to hurt myself by being just your friend. I don’t want to hear stories about you and your fiancé”. Samir said all of that in a single breath. It felt as if he had come prepared. Riya could not say anything. Tears started flowing from her eyes and she didn’t make any effort to stop them. Samir realized what his confession had done and he went into damage control mode straight away.
“I am sorry Riya. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just wanted you to get on with your life”. Riya was still crying, but Samir had no more to say. He just sat there quietly waiting for Riya to speak.
“Samir, I always liked you, right from the day when you hosted the Annual Party.” As soon as Riya said this, Samir was shocked. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Riya, then why didn’t you say something earlier?”
Samir looked into her eyes while talking to her. The colour of her eyes always amazed him. Whenever he saw her under the lights in the office, they looked like molten gold. Today they were looking so intense that he wanted to look away… or never look away. He couldn’t decide.
“Samir, how do you expect me to tell you? I always thought you had a girlfriend, and even if you didn’t have one, which girl makes the first move?” Samir never understood why girls can’t take the lead, but today wasn’t the day to argue over that.
“Riya, I will speak to your parents about us, but for that I want to know if you are ready”. This wasn’t what Samir had come prepared for, but no matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it. Riya was also stumped for a moment, but she quickly recovered.
“Samir, before you speak to my parents I want you to talk to your mother. I don’t want my parents to be in an embarrassing situation.”
Samir understood her perspective. “Ok Riya. I will speak to my mom today itself”. Riya smiled, but she was still worried about how the reactions will be. For now, however, she was happy that it wasn’t a one-dimensional love.
They didn’t stay for long at the mall. Samir wanted to drop Riya home on his bike, but she insisted on taking a rickshaw. They departed, but not before holding hands while in the parking lot. As soon as Riya reached home, she immediately messaged Samir asking him to let her know how the talks with his mother went. Samir was the only son and Riya wondered whether his mother would happily accept her. When she didn’t hear from Samir even after an hour, she quickly called on his number but couldn’t get through. In fact she didn’t hear from him at all that night. Riya spent a restless night - all the time worried about Samir and their future together.
After spending a restless night, Riya couldn’t wait to go to office the next day. She knew that Samir always reached work 20 minutes early so she figured it would be the best time to speak to him. She was angry with him for not calling or sending her a message. One reaching office, she quickly went up to Samir’s desk – he hadn’t arrived yet. Dejected Riya went to her desk and logged in. Slowly, the office started coming alive with others coming in too. It was 10 am and Samir hadn’t come yet. Riya started worrying. Had something gone wrong at his home? Did his Mother say No? Or was he just fooling around? Between these thoughts, she didn’t realize that her manager had called them for an urgent briefing. When a colleague called out to her, she rushed to the meeting room.
Riya was the last to enter so as soon as she reached, her manager started talking.
“Team, I have some bad news for you. Last night, one of our team members, Samir, had an accident where his bike was hit by a speeding truck”.
Riya couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her whole world seemed to have collapsed. She couldn’t stand by herself and she had to hold onto the table for support. Sensing something amiss, her manager asked her to sit down while another colleague handed her a glass of water. Nothing that was being said seemed to make any sense. How could this happen? Samir wasn’t known for rash riding. In fact, from what she had heard, he was one of the safest riders. Her manager went to mention that the impact had been so bad that Samir probably lost his life on the spot. By the time he could be taken to the hospital, he was dead. The police couldn’t inform anyone right away as his bag with his ID card and wallet was thrown away from the impact. It was close to 4am in the morning when his parents came to know and that it was his cousin brother who called up one of their colleagues in the morning to share the sad news.
Riya felt the ground slip beneath her feet. It wasn’t that she had started planning her life with Samir already, but his passing away within hours of them expressing love seemed so unreal. Some of her colleagues were going to his place, but she had neither the willingness nor the courage to face the situation. She went home straight from the office. Whatever small dreams she had harboured of them together had vanished even before it taking any sort of shape. She couldn’t share her grief with anyone and that made it all the more difficult for her to come to terms with. Her family was busy with the preparations for her wedding, but she wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do. Finally, she decided to speak to the person whom her family had chosen as her partner.
Rohan and Riya met one evening. Rohan was very confused when Riya called him asking to meet her. He was even more surprised when she explicitly asked him not to mention about the meeting to anyone. He didn’t know what was in store; but he still agreed to meet her.
When Rohan arrived at the coffee shop, Riya was already there. He took the chair opposite to hers and smiled at her. It wasn’t reciprocated, which made him realize that it wasn’t just a normal meeting. He waited for Riya to speak.
“I can’t marry you Rohan,” said Riya. Rohan was shocked, but he didn’t react. He waited for a minute or two before speaking.
“And may I know the reason for the same Riya”? It was Riya’s turn to go quiet. After much deliberation, she told him what had happened with her over the last couple of weeks. Rohan listened very patiently to her, without interrupting her even once. When she finished, he leaned back on his chair and closed his eyes. Riya knew what his response would be and she was ready for the same.
“Riya, I am sorry for your loss. Losing a friend is always tough and losing a special friend is all the more harder”. Riya didn’t say anything. “I am happy to speak to my parents and convey the message to your family as well. But, is it fair on our part to put our family in gloom? There is no doubt Riya that what has happened is terrible. I want you to think upon this decision of yours tonight. If tomorrow your decision still remains the same, I will speak to everyone concerned. And you need not worry; nothing of what we discussed will ever leave me. My lips will be sealed forever”
Riya looked at Rohan, confused on how she should react. She had expected a drama. Calling off of the wedding would have its own repercussions - both for his family and for her. At this point, she didn’t care about what it would mean to her, but she never expected Rohan to be so calm and understanding.
“Riya, there comes a time in life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it. I am ready to start a new book of life with you; only if you are ready”. He didn’t say anything further, nor did she. After a few minutes Riya got up and left.
Today, as she lay in her bed, Riya couldn’t help but thank god for giving her a spouse in the form of Rohan. He not only kept his word on keeping their meeting a secret, but also in their 7 years of marriage, that topic was never brought up. When their son was born, it was Rohan who suggested the name Samir. She couldn’t marry the person she loved, but in Rohan, she had found a friend whom she had started to love. Getting married to your friend is probably the best thing to happen, but finding a friend in your spouse is truly magical!